Training jiu-jitsu as a beginner can be a challenging task. For many, just walking into an academy for the first time to train can be intimidating. Letting a stranger grab hold of you to apply a choke or joint lock is not something most people do on a daily basis. Yet when you first start training, this is exactly what you are doing. For beginners, training can also be frustrating at times. It can be tough always being the nail and never the hammer. You take a lot of beatings starting out and have a lot of rough rolls. Unfortunately, there is not a magic formula in this article or any other article that can tell you how to completely eliminate these early challenges. It’s part of the learning process and a necessary one at that. However, there are some tips that may make these challenges feel a little less overwhelming and may help you progress to the next level a little bit faster.
Stick With It
There is an expression: “A black belt is a white belt that never gave up.”
It’s a true one. You will continue to advance and learn as long as you dedicate yourself. Commitment is key and the more you train the quicker your progression will be. Do not expect overnight results, but realize that if you continue to train, you will get better.
Being a BJJ white belt is all about surviving. There is a lot of information coming at you all at once and it may seem a bit overwhelming. Remember to try to focus on the basics at first. Like many other sports and other martial arts, you will want to build a strong foundation with solid fundamentals. In order to do so, early on you will need to learn the different positions in jiu-jitsu and be able to recognize them while you are training. Recognize when you are in half guard, when you are in full guard, and all the other positions. As you start to recognize positions more and more, you will start to associate techniques that can be used from each position. Submissions are great and should be learned, but at the lower level it is more important to focus on defending yourself along with holding and improving positions. The submissions will come more easily once you know how to properly protect yourself and advance your position on an opponent. “Position before submission” is a common phrase heard in jiu-jitsu and we think it certainly rings true at the white belt level.
Learn The Fundamentals
Jiu-jitsu is always evolving. New techniques and positions are constantly being developed and tweaked. With youtube and social media, techniques are no longer kept secret. You can easily spend hours on the Internet checking out the latest jiu-jitsu instructional videos and techniques. Learning new techniques can be exciting and fun, but as a fresh new white belt, you should be focusing on learning and improving your foundation more than the fancy stuff that comes later. Learning to shrimp properly will help your game a lot more than practicing flying triangles. Learn to control your opponent in your closed guard before you work on those Berimbola sweeps. Learn good posture and how to keep your hands off the mat and your elbows in when in the guard. In the long run, building solid fundamentals will improve your game more than anything else.
For a white belt, staying relaxed is much easier to say than do. It can be very difficult to know and understand how much energy is required to use when rolling and training. With time and experience, beginners eventually learn to settle down and efficiently use their energy. That said, beginners should pay attention to the energy they are using when they roll. If you are gripping lapels with all your strength and gassing out after a couple of minutes, you are using too much energy. White belts will often mistake this as a need to improve their cardio. While cardio is key for your jiu-jitsu game, it’s not just about cardio alone. Learning to use energy efficiently is also extremely important. Try to relax while rolling and learn when to use more energy and when to pace yourself. Realize that you should not be using a ton of strength in most situations. Technique is more important. If you are cranking on a submission as hard as you can and not getting a tap, then you are probably not doing it right. In addition, using too much force can potentially injure training partners and that is something you definitely want to avoid.
Leave Your Ego Behind
When you first start training, it’s natural to want to be good. But jiu-jitsu is not just about being good. It’s also about improving your game and helping your training partners improve theirs. Recognize quickly that you will get tapped and tapped often when you first start training. Again, this is part of the learning process. Don’t get frustrated or angry. When you tap you learn. Also, be modest when you tap one of your partners. It’s nothing to brag about or make a big deal of. Just slap hands and move on to the next roll. When training is over, you can reflect on what you did correctly or incorrectly during class and analyze how you can make improvements for the next class.
Tap and Learn
A common mistake for white belts is not learning when to tap. If you’re caught in a submission and can’t get out of it, don’t be afraid to tap. Too often, beginners will try to tough their way out a lock or choke either due to pride or ego. This will most likely get you hurt and then you won’t be training at all. If you get caught in a submission, it’s not a big deal, just tap, and start the next roll.
Forget About Rank
Chances are you have heard this one already, but if you haven't, here it is again. Don't worry about rank. Don't worry about promotions and how long it will be before your next one. Don't worry about getting tapped by someone with less strips or tapping someone who is a higher rank. Just get in to your academy and train. Train consistently and the promotions will come in time. Obsessing over rank is pointless. How you perform on the mats is what really matters. Stripes won't make you better, training will.
If you have questions, ask them. Most instructors and higher ranks will go out of their way to help you with problems or questions you may have. At some schools, you can often stay after class to work on things or attend “open mat” where you are free to work on any techniques you want. If you find yourself encountering the same problem over and over, evaluate why and seek assistance so you can correct the technique.
Supplement Your Training
Training is the best way to get better at jiu-jitsu. However, just like other sports there are things you can do outside of regular training that will improve your game. Strength training and conditioning for example will help you on the mats. In addition, there is a ton of information out there that will help you with techniques. There are some great instructional videos on youtube available for free. Other subscription sources also offer some quality content such as Stephan Kesting, Jason Scully, and Marcelo Garcia to name a few. In addition, you can find instructional DVD sets from a lot of top names such as Ryan Hall. The idea here is not to go out and learn a thousand moves from watching youtube instead of going to class, but you can use these videos to help improve certain areas of your game. Used in conjunction with your regular attendance, videos can definitely help your jiu-jitsu game improve.
Hopefully these tips will help make that transition from fresh white belt to the next level a little bit easier. Jiu-jitsu is a great martial art and many of the lessons learned from it can be helpful off the mats as well. Stick with it, keep training, and you will see improvements to your game soon enough.